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Aston University Psychology Early Career Researcher Wins Prestigious Grant to Explore Public Support for Health Policies

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A psychology researcher in the College of Health and Life Sciences at Aston University has been awarded a €1.5 million ERC Starting Grant, which will be funded through UKRI, for a five-year project to understand what can be done to maximise support for public health policies which could save millions of lives. 

The project ‘Maximising Public Support for Health Policies’ led by Dr James Reynolds, based in the School of Psychology, will explore why members of the public either support or oppose crucial policies to improve public health. 

Dr James Reynolds, a lecturer in psychology, said: “Public attitudes towards these policies are vital as governments often fear implementing policies where there is low support. In some cases, lifesaving policies such as the smoking ban might be delayed, repealed, or never even implemented due to a perceived (or actual) public backlash. 

“This work will contribute to wider efforts to implement policies that can save millions of lives and reduce the huge burden on our health services.”

The research project will span four main policy areas: tobacco consumption, excessive consumption of alcohol, poor diets and physical inactivity – since these behaviours are the primary drivers behind many non-communicable diseases such as cancers, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Together they account for over 70% of deaths globally and cost health services billions each year. 

The starter grant will fund Dr Reynolds for five years – enabling him to recruit a team of researchers and make major progress towards understanding how the public form and change their attitudes towards health policies.

The ERC Starting Grant is part of the Horizon Europe programme which is awarding a total of €636 million to over 400 hundred early career researchers. The aim of the grants is to assist younger scientists who have two to seven years’ experience post-doctorate to launch their own projects, form their teams and pursue their most promising research ideas.

Due to the UK no longer being associated with the Horizon Europe programme, the ERC Starter Grant award will not be funded by the EU. Instead, the award will be funded through the UKRI Underwrite Guarantee.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “We are proud that we are empowering younger researchers to follow their curiosity. These new ERC laureates bring a remarkable wealth of scientific ideas, they will certainly further our knowledge and some already have practical applications in sight. I wish them all the best of luck with their explorations.”

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